Yacob Abreha is a psychosocial counselor, CVT Ethiopia
I am a psychosocial counselor (PSC) at CVT Ethiopia, and I am also a member of the refugee community here in the camp in northern Ethiopia. One thing that I appreciate about working with CVT is that while I’m in a difficult situation, I’m still serving people. As a member of the community, I appreciate that people have problems and they need help. Some refugees stay here for many years; it is difficult. We understand. It makes sense that because of their situation, they have problems, and I am glad that I can help them find healing. This gives me satisfaction.
I was a storekeeper with Coca Cola in my home country, Eritrea. However, I was put into the military, which ended my work. When I came to the camp in Ethiopia, I first worked for several months as a teacher in a government-sponsored school. I then moved to join CVT.
My academic background is in philosophy, and I have always been interested in helping people. Based on my background, I believe that it’s good to help people, and this will contribute to your own satisfaction. To solve problems gives satisfaction. I was interested in working at CVT because they are helping people.
At CVT, I facilitate the group counseling sessions, do intakes with new clients and conduct field assessments. I also do a lot of work on community mobilization – we do that through psychoeducation and sensitization events. For psychoeducation, we conduct sessions with the community to help educate them about symptoms of trauma, such as depression and suicidal thoughts. We let them know that help is available at CVT, and tell them what that care is like. For sensitizations, we go out into the community and work to contact many people. We meet with them in groups and individually, and tell them about rehabilitative care.
Over time, there have been many changes resulting from our community sensitization. As a PSC, I observed that most in the refugee community saw CVT as a place for the “insane.” But after we went out and did intensive community sensitization, I have seen a change in attitude. Now people see CVT is for healthy people who have survived traumatic situations.
We conduct sensitization on an on-going basis and increase the sessions based on the needs of the community. The intensive sensitization sessions we completed recently were scheduled in the camp three days per week, with Tuesdays dedicated to newly-arrived refugees, Wednesdays focused on outreach in specific zones within the camp, and Thursdays used for door-to-door contacts.
Now I am an observer for CVT within the community. I notice when people appear to be isolated and may need help. With our outreach and sensitizations, the community understands how CVT works.
I have also observed changes in myself from my work doing the community sensitizations. Previously, I had stage fright. But now, after I have spoken to so many groups of people, I don’t have that feeling of fear when speaking in front of an audience.
In my work, I appreciate the times when I see clients participate in the group counseling sessions and make improvements. Important connections are made because they are willing to share with the group. It is not always obvious how one person’s healing will help someone else in rebuilding a life here. As an example, I recall a man in one of the group counseling sessions whose wife was very sick. Thankfully, she recovered. Then later, there was a woman in another group who had the same problem that this man’s wife had. Because one client had shared about his problem, I had knowledge of this issue and was able to advise this woman to get treatment. That was one of my happiest moments in my work with CVT.
For Eritreans and for those who were victims of torture and atrocities in the Sinai desert, a group whose violent treatment brought many to us at CVT, there are many traumatic experiences which have created problems for them. Many women have a lot of hurt, a lot of pain after the difficult situations they have survived. As a result, many people close themselves into their homes. But after coming to CVT for service, they change.
I too went through many difficult times in the past. I survived beatings and hardships before coming to Ethiopia. But I have overcome the emotional trauma. Today, I apply my academic background to my work with CVT. While I am in the midst of problems in my own situation, I am helping people who have problems. Therefore this is hopeful.
CVT’s work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.